A company called Beyond Meat is making a 100 percent plant-based burger called Beyond Burger, and its most salacious quality is that it bleeds like real meat. Full disclosure: the “blood” is actually beet juice. But the really interesting thing about this burger is how it’s made.
CEO Ethan Brown isn’t interested in making yet another run-of-the-mill veggie burger. He has a team of scientists trying to emulate the taste and texture of meat with plants.
“We start with the composition of meats,” Brown said. “It’s amino acids, it’s lipids, there are trace amounts of carbohydrates and minerals and then there’s 60 to 70 percent water. We then look at the architecture of meat and how are those five elements put together. What we’re doing is taking those five core pieces and we’re taking them from non-animal sources, we’re taking them primarily from the plant kingdom. We’re taking the protein, the fat and the water and assembling it in the architecture of meat. We are essentially providing a piece of meat, but just meat that’s bypassed the animal and come directly from plants.”
What sort of plants can substitute for the protein, fats and amino acids found in meat?
“We use a particular type of yellow pea. We are beginning to use fava bean, rice protein, camelina, mustard seed, all of these have great sources of amino acids. So it’s just finding crops that have a high concentration of amino acids in them and then extracting those. That’s the work we’re doing on the protein side. On the fat side, we rely on coconut fat quite a bit.”
An environmentalist, Ethan used to work the alternative energy field, developing fuel cells, but he realized that beef production was a larger problem, and one closer to his heart as an animal lover and vegan.
“So if you look at really what’s driving the emissions on the climate front it’s not necessarily just transportation. It’s predominately livestock and that was the big, eye opening moment for me to realize that. The number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions was in fact livestock. So I asked a simple question which was: Do you need an animal to create a piece of meat? After doing a lot of research I realized you don’t need one. So I started to work on that and connected with some academics who are doing terrific work on this at the University of Missouri and started the company.”
Brown is trying to reach meat eaters, to encourage people who love meat to lay off of a product that is environmentally harmful, unsustainable and not always humane to animals.
“I don’t see a day when consumers are not going to be consuming meat. But I very clearly see a day when consumers will be consuming meat that comes from plants in increasing percentages to the point where you may no longer need the animal to create meat. So you’re not going to get that if you’re just serving quinoa and bean burgers. This is for people who love meat, love the meat experience, want to celebrate all the traditions around meat, whether it’s barbecue or Thanksgiving.”
Of course, vegetarians are also welcome to the Beyond Burger, but not all of them will be so keen on the fake blood effect. Beyond Meat’s scientists are working on making the burger taste and feel more and more like meat, and Brown anticipates it will only continue to improve.
This interview comes from Rachel Belle’s podcast, Your Last Meal.